For eight innings, the Winthrop baseball team clutched and grabbed and held on, hoping for the puncher’s chance.
Instead, the Eagles were knocked cold late.
Wake Forest escaped with a 5-2 win at The Winthrop Ballpark on Tuesday night, pushing across three runs in the ninth of a game you’d call crisply played if it had been.
This was a game that was close but not always well-played, with as many pitchers used (15) as hits combined (15), with four errors coming at bizarre times and statistical oddities more prevalent than clutch hits.
“It was a tough one,” Winthrop coach Tom Riginos said, shaking his head. “These games right before exams are all about focus and concentration, and that’s what we talked about. We’ve got guys who have been studying all day, who have 8 o’clock exams in the morning, that kind of thing.
“The stress level’s up with them, and you could kind of see that.”
Winthrop (13-29) was in it for most of the night, thanks to some solid pitching by starter Austin Stuart and Stetson Nelson.
It came unraveled in the ninth, as Wake Forest (26-16) got to Eagles weekend starter Tyler Klitsch and took advantage of some shaky defense.
A leadoff error was compounded by a double, a walk, another error and a single for three runs, all the edge the Demon Deacons needed on a night when a light-hitting team lived up to its reputation.
Winthrop got two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, but pinch-hitter Tony Brandner’s pop-up was a frustrating end to a frustrating game.
“We have a small margin of error, and we’ve said that all season,” Riginos said. “We made the mistakes late and it cost us, a good team capitalized. Prior to the ninth, we had competed well at the plate and on the mound, and we have the tying run at the plate in the ninth. That’s all you can ask.
“It’s a learning experience, no doubt, and we’ll be better off in the long run.”
The Eagles tied the game in a manner both strange and unusual, pushing across a run in the bottom of the fifth inning with three sacrifices.
Chas Crane led the inning off with a single off the pitcher’s ankle, and Leighton Daniels advanced him on a sacrifice bunt, but was safe on a throwing error. Austen Barber then provided a more conventional sacrifice bunt (he was out), before Jason Driver drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly to left.
They finished the game with five combined sacrifices (one fly, four hits or bunts).
The NCAA record for sacrifice hits in a game is six, which has been achieved five times. The record for sacrifice flies is seven, and it’s so rare it’s only been done once (by Arkansas in 2004).
It was that kind of night.
The Eagles now have a break until next week, when they go to No. 6 North Carolina to open a nine-game road swing. The next home game is May 17, to start the season finale series against High Point.
The Eagles are currently tied for eighth in the Big South, with the top eight teams qualifying for the tournament.
WAKE FOREST 4, WINTHROP 2
Wake Forest: Connor Kaden, Zach White (3), Daniel Marrs (3), Niko Spezial (5), Nate Jones (6), Justin Van Grouw (7), John McLeod (8), Jack Fisher (8), Michael Dimock (9) and Charlie Morgan, Brett Armour (9); Winthrop: Austin Stuart, Stetson Nelson (4), Preston Johnson (6), Michael Gilroy (6), Tyler Klitsch (6), Matt Pierpont (9) and Austen Barber, Reid Langdale (9). WP - Fisher (3-3); LP - Klitsch (2-5). 2B: Wake Forest - Kevin Jordan, Mac Williamson, Jack Carey; Winthrop - None. 3B: - None. HR: None.
Records: Wake Forest 26-16; Winthrop 13-29.